Travel Traditions / by Bill Frakes

When I was young, my parents would organize holiday trips to visit their families. Mom's family lived in eastern Nebraska. Dad's siblings were scattered throughout the country, but his mother was in southeast Nebraska.

They didn't have a lot of resources. Most of their money went to education -- various college degrees and books. Not a lot of spontaneous spending.

Travel was accordingly frugal. Mom would bake bread, make sandwiches and cookies. She would freeze small jars of water and milk, serving the dual purpose of keeping the small cooler cold, and eventually, quenching our thirst as they melted.

We only travelled by car. The family Ford was a rolling fortress. All cars then were giant hunks of solid American steel. Ours was basic, and perfect.

Trip preparations started a week in advance with Mom making sure everything was perfectly organized and prepared.

Gas money set aside in an envelope on the table by the door. They did have a gas card for emergencies, but seldom used it. Cash, always paid in full. Children of the Great Depression - they didn't go into debt. (Mom owned three houses in her life. Two of them she had built and when she got the keys, the carpenter got his money right then.)

Letters were written and posted to folks we would be visiting, confirming their status. It wouldn't do to drive 400 miles to find nobody home -- although I am not sure where any of them would have gone except to visit us. My Dad made one long distance call every two weeks at the most, and never talked for more than three minutes. Mom didn't make any, seriously. Never, just too expensive.

Planning the route was pretty simple, not a lot of paved roads went where we were headed.

Packing the clothes was done well in advance. Sorted by day, everything neatly folded, and stacked into the old Samsonite suitcases.

They made sure there were a few frames of film left in the camera, just in case we needed to photograph something more than the usual group portraits.

Good bonding experience. We had hours to talk, and talk. Family history, practical information related about how the crops were doing as we rolled across the state -- important information for our farmer relations. We read, did crossword puzzles, and played car games usually involving memorizing some arcane trivia my Dad had studied.

A week on the road meant hours in close proximity, lots of sharing.

Times change, traditions remain.

We are still travelers. Constantly in motion. For right or wrong, I flew more than 400,000 miles in 2013.

This time our flight to Istanbul was at noon. We packed that morning. In fairness my wardrobe hasn't changed much since I was two. It's winter so that means hoodies not t-shirts, the only seasonal variation. For a few years, I got crazy and wore white running shoes instead of black, but that fad changed, and I'm back to basics -- and as an aside, very amused that Chuck Taylor's are so incredibly popular again. I always wore mine out so I couldn't still be using them, but still I wonder...

We checked connections, confirmed hotel reservations, made sure the credit card companies were advised that we would be using our cards in Europe and Asia the next few days, and wrote to our friends during the 30 minute drive to the airport.

Havana did do some advance planning, she made sure she had the right books, music and films downloaded to her old iPad (didn't want to risk losing her new one -- it's her lifeblood). With me constantly traveling, we are not always in close proximity, but are somehow always electronically connected. Even when I'm home editing, my office in a building a scant 150 feet from our living room most of our communication on school days is seemingly via wifi.

We got to our hotel in Istanbul 11 minutes ahead of when we planned to be there. Pulling into our hotel just in time for Havana to have some Salep before dinner.

My extended family now includes some of the world's great photographers, storytellers. In Istanbul, it's Kerim Okten, a wonderful journalist, who had just returned to his hometown after a multi-year stint as chief photographer for the European Press Agency in the United Kingdom. One of the tough cadre of globe trotting photojournalists I've spent my life with all over the planet, he dropped everything to take us to his favorite little coffee shop. It was a sweet venue riverside on the mighty Bosphorus perfect for relaxing and looking a first Asia and then Europe - Istanbul being the only major city in the world spanning two continents.

It's odd how well I know this foreign capital. Laura and I shot a short film here two years ago and spent a little time getting to understand the rhythms of the place.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly called the Blue Mosque.

I loved showing this place, in person, to Havana. Sunrise over the Bosphorus. The Blue Mosque at sunset, surrounded by the haunting, lovely sound of the call to prayer, form the terrace of the Safir restaurant. Walking through Taskim, site of this summer's massive protest, it took three tries to get down the road to a favorite bookstore and a lovely CD store... not because we had to stop in the jewelry and dress stores, although we did plenty of that, but because the riot police and protesters blocked our way. No danger, but enough drama to get Havana's interest.


Unlike most of the American cities we visit, Istanbul is teeming with life at night. Shops, restaurants... throngs of people coursing through the streets well after sunset. But make no mistake, it's happy, kind, and friendly.

The traffic here is crazy, but we saw no accidents. It might crawl, sometimes it zips along, but never stops.

Just like our travel schedule.